Canada held secret U.S. talks in bid to free Kovrig, Spavor jailed in China

Canada’s ambassador to China spent three weeks in Washington in early April holding talks with senior US officials aimed at facilitating the release of two Canadians imprisoned in China.

Ambassador Dominic Barton’s secret mission to Washington included discussions about a possible US deferred prosecution agreement for Huawei Technologies Co’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou that could lead to freedoms for Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, three sources said.

The sources declined to discuss the details of negotiations regarding the postponed prosecution agreement due to the sensitive and confidential nature of the case. However, he insisted Mr Barton’s talks included a broader appeal for stronger US action to pressure Beijing to release the two men from prison, where they have been held for 910 days.

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Barton, a former global managing partner at giant consulting firm McKinsey & Co, received commitments from senior US officials to bring some intensity to pressure Beijing, one of the sources said.

Mr Barton met with officials from the White House National Security Council and the Departments of Justice, State, Defense, Treasury and Commerce. He also held talks with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to Washington. The Granthshala is not identifying the sources, according to three sources because they were not authorized to discuss Mr Barton’s mission in Washington.

Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were arrested soon after Canada detained Ms. Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, in December 2018 on an extradition request from the US Department of Justice for alleged bank fraud related to US sanctions violations against Iran. was done.

Ms Meng, who is out on bail and living in her $13.7 million Vancouver home, is fighting extradition in a B.C. court. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected Beijing’s call to intervene and send him home, saying there will be no political interference in Canada’s judicial system.

In late 2020, the US Justice Department discussed a plea agreement with Huawei that would have allowed Ms Meng to return home, a move that could have led to the release of the two Canadians.

The talks appear to have stalled and it is uncertain whether Mr Barton was able to revive those talks during his discussions with Biden administration officials and the US envoy to China in Washington in April.

One of the sources said Mr Barton, who was sent to Washington at Trudeau’s behest instead of using Canada’s ambassador to the US, believes a deferred prosecution agreement cannot be reached. The source added that this is why Mr Barton’s overall mission was to persuade the Biden administration to use his influence and get support from other allies to convince President Xi Jinping that Beijing’s hostage diplomacy would result in China’s global stalemate. The image is deteriorating badly.

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In a virtual meeting between Trudeau and Biden in February, the president called for the safe return of the two Michaels, saying “Humans are not bargaining chips.”

Mr Barton was recalled to Ottawa in late March for talks with the prime minister and senior officials, until Canada joined the US, UK and the European Union, calling on Beijing to impose sanctions on Chinese officials. was overseeing the brutal treatment of Muslim minorities, including the Uighurs. .

At the time, Canadian officials told The Granthshala that Mr. Barton had been brought home from Beijing for important strategic meetings with China on sensitive issues; He declined to discuss further details.

Covert trials for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, facing espionage charges, were held in late March. Mr Trudeau has said the two Canadians are “immediately” victims of the allegations.

Canadian officials told The Granthshala in March that they believed there was a strong possibility the US Justice Department could negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with Huawei that would allow Ms Meng to return home while Chinese telecommuting will pay a heavy fine. Any compromise would require an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. A settlement must be approved by the US Federal Court in the Eastern District of New York.

The US Department of Justice has the power to withdraw extradition requests and arrest warrants. Even if Ms Meng is allowed to return home as part of a US deal, experts in China say it is unlikely the two Michaels will be freed immediately. The more likely scenario is that China will wait at least two months before deporting them, possibly after a Chinese court has ruled on espionage charges.

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Huawei has long maintained Ms Meng’s innocence, but Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration attorney who has been following the case closely and represented the interests of the Chinese Politburo during the 1990s, said that It is their condition that Ms. Meng will be willing to admit wrongdoing. reached a resolution with the US

“What wrongdoing is this a question?” That said, it’s all about how a compromise is packaged. They think Huawei is ready to pay the fine. “It is not a question of if; it is how much.”

Mr Kurland said he believed the Chinese government wanted to settle the matter and that Ms Meng was ready to do what Beijing wanted. Still, he said, it would be something big for a Huawei executive to admit to any wrongdoing. “She has to carry whatever she accepts for the rest of her life.”

Find out what’s happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary, handpicked by Granthshala editors (clients only). .

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